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Broadway-Fillmore Alive Needs You

13 Oct

HELP

Buffalo-Fillmore Alive needs your help! The group is dedicated to the renaissance of the Broadway-Fillmore area on Buffalo’s East Side, and was started in 2005 by Chris Byrd, the late, great Mike Miller, and Michele Johnson

The stated goal was to “open a window to the neighborhood…and start promoting it as a whole”, and to basically help people realize that there’s a whole world there, largely denigrated or forgotten but just as alive and vibrant as any other Buffalo neighborhood. 

“Our mission is to work together with community groups, businesses, residents, churches and other organizations to help promote, preserve and revitalize the Broadway-Fillmore area.”

Miller’s untimely death conspired with family and work constraints that made it harder for the group to accomplish its lofty mission, but Byrd writes that BFA is starting a concept called “Team Alive”.  From Byrd’s blog post: 

The idea is to put together a broader BFA volunteer group of people interested in working on some neighborhood projects in B-F, write for BFA, take photos and more. At the core of the concept is what we started to do when we came up with Broadway Fillmore Alive.

Through the work here and with the various organizations BFA is affiliated with, our idea has always been to have people look at the neighborhood as a sum of all its parts. I am very proud of this little window we give the world of B-F.

But…

There is more work to be done…there is a lot of the neighborhood that doesn’t get the attention or focus it needs.

If you are interested in finding out more and getting involved, you can fill out the Team Alive form by clicking here or call 716.218.0BFA.

Unhinged Lies, Debunked

22 May

They were sore winners last year, and they’re sore losers this year. I suppose I prefer the latter, but let’s examine facts vs. fantasy. 

– 3,531 people voted in the Clarence school election Tuesday. This was the third-largest turnout in Clarence history. If you eliminate last year’s aberrant budget fiasco, it was the largest turnout in Clarence history

– The school budget – largely unopposed – won by a whopping 77% margin. It was the highest margin since 1995

– The three top vote-getters for school board each received approximately 2,500 votes. The demolition crew urged people to plunk – to vote only for – Mr. Worling. He received about 1,000 votes. Anyone who suggests that turnout was “low” or “sleepy” is delusional; the usual turnout is historically closer to Mr. Worling’s entire vote count

As I described at some length here, the taxpayers – parents, students, and seniors – who came out to support our schools worked very hard on a shoestring budget to out-work the opposition. The demolition crew’s butthurt, however, is strong today

Regard: 

How many bullshits? So many bullshits

May 20th came and went – and most taxpayers didn’t even notice.

Bullshit.

As I pointed out above, third-highest turnout in history. In 2012, the total turnout was 1,664. In 2011, it was 2,019. In 2010, 1,664. In 2009, 1,087.  Average turnout in Clarence school elections peaked at 2,881 in 2005, but is historically around 1,500 in a typical year.

In 2014, turnout was more than double what we get in a typical year. Taxpayers noticed – they just happened to notice that the corporate-funded anti-school destruction crew doesn’t have the best interests of the schools, the citizens, or the town at heart.

And that buzzword – taxpayers. Am I not a taxpayer? Is there some suggestion here that the 2,500-or-so people who voted in favor of the schools are not as much taxpayers as the 1,000 school-destroyers?  Who are these people who self-identify as only one thing – a taxpayer

They use the monicker “taxpayer” to shield themselves from the fact that they seek nothing less than a wholesale destruction of the public school system in town. They pretend to be on the side of schools, but after they broke the schools last year, this particular woman didn’t bother to help fund restoration of programs. She’s on the side of her own self-interest; community be damned. Don’t buy the charade. 

This year’s School Board election hinge on voter turnout. With a more reasonable budget on the ballot, anti-taxpayer groups flew under the radar. This year’s school board vote once again became a sleepy event populated by school insiders.

Bullshit.

Interesting Freudian slip there – “school insiders”.  I’m not a “school insider” unless, of course, I’m inside a school. I have kids in school, so technically that makes them “insiders”.

The author of this malignant screed is no longer an insider, but she was a few short years ago.  You see, her kids went through the Clarence schools, free from any threats from any right wing hate mob looking to do palpable harm to their educations. But now that her kids are out of the system, it’s ripe for destruction. She got hers, now fuck everyone else. It’s the new American way.

Let me add this horrible anecdote from a correspondent: 

You better believe they’re coming after the teachers. [Tuesday] night, Ginger Lahti (wife of board member Jason and sister of board member Roger Showalter) confronted my son, a junior, in the CHS parking lot. He was holding ASK signs and chanting “quality teachers and quality education for our students.”

She said to him, “You’re not doing this for the students; you’re doing this for your teachers so they can make more money. Your teachers brainwashed you.” Later, she pointed to Mr. Worling and said to [my son], “He’s not your enemy – the teachers’ union is your enemy.”

[My son] was really upset about it, because he loves his teachers and oh yeah – his father is a teacher! Ginger certainly chose the wrong kid to confront! And last year, [Jim] Murphy confronted [my son] during the voting day demonstrations. He also told [my son] he’d been “brainwashed” and that he’d “be better off being homeschooled.” These people have ZERO respect for teachers!! In fact, they have straight-up contempt. It’s disgusting.

Bullying schoolkids? Accusing them of being brainwashed, whilst simultaneously trying to brainwash them? Nice crowd of people, who can’t pick on someone their own size. 

That Murphy guy. He’s a trip. One of our volunteers went to where the anti-school crowd was bribing seniors with pancakes to get them to help destroy the schools (it didn’t work – hardly anyone showed up.) She’s a young mother, and had her infant with her while volunteering. As she was leaving,

… it was to Jim Murphy shouting at me… “You need your baby to protect you”.. That came out of nowhere because everyone was very pleasant to us while we were there.

Just awful people. Protect her from what, precisely? That’s a straight-up threat. Murphy used to be on the town’s Democratic committee. Some Democrat – working to destroy public education, a tool of the town’s big developer, bullying kids, threatening mothers. Glad we’ve sanitized the committee of such despicable malcontents.

Anyhow, Tuesday’s “sleepy event” was (if you take away 2013) the largest turnout in history.  

And we’re “anti-taxpayer” now? I am a taxpayer. In fact, the author of the anti-school post paid $2,400 in school taxes last year. I paid $4,300. Is that taxpayer-y enough for you? I’m also a citizen of a society – a society that guarantees kids a quality education from K-12. 

As a sign of just how brazen they were, taxpayers were openly disrespected at Meet the Candidates night when ALL THREE ANTI-TAXPAYER CANDIDATES FOR SCHOOL BOARD  PLEDGED SUPPORT FOR EACH OTHER – AND FOR LAST YEAR’S FAILED 9.8% BUDGET INCREASE.

Bullshit.

Maybe you felt disrespected, but taxpayers weren’t disrespected, and neither were you.  (Actually, it was a wholly cordial event and no one disrespected anyone, except in someone’s Randian fever dreams.)  At the Meet the Candidates forum, the ASK slate of candidates didn’t express “support for each other” at any time. That is a blatant lie. They did, however, indicate that they would have rather eaten the 9.8% increase and maintained programs, social workers, librarians, classes, clubs, teachers, and electives, rather than lost it all.   (Here is a compendium on my 2013 series on the budget mess.) 

It’s called getting a good return on a comparatively low investment. We have a cost-effective, fiscally responsible school district that maintains excellent results for minimum taxpayer exposure

You can’t make this stuff up. And this inexplicably blatant anti-taxpayer action paid off as the three all coasted to victory amid slack voter turnout.

Bullshit

High voter turnout. And they coasted with historically high voter turnout. It’s just that we turned our people out and yours stayed home. Maybe they were fatigued by your hateful, false propaganda. 

I was petrified Tuesday night as they called the results. I didn’t know they did it in ballot order, so when they said Worling’s name second, my heart dropped. Nothing was a sure bet, and I never once underestimated the financial wherewithal or bitter hatred that our opponents harbored for us and our cause. This wild rant merely confirms it. 

Our cause wasn’t spendthrift communism, but the maintenance of excellent and cost-effective schools. 

Clarence is the #3 district in WNY. It is also the third most cost-efficient district in WNY. It is fifth lowest in per pupil spending in WNY. You get the biggest bang for your school tax buck in Clarence. 

Our voters, frankly, came out because they’ve had it with the demolition crew’s propaganda and lies. 

The gambit should have served as a warning that the anti-taxpayer groups have concluded that the sleeping giant that awoke last May to strike down the 9.8% increase has returned to its slumber.

Instead, the move mobilized their base, and the three enjoyed the support of same 2500 votes that have traditionally been available for union-backed candidates in a Clarence School Board race.

Bullshit.

“Anti-taxpayer” again. I don’t quite follow the logic in the two preceding paragraphs, but it is a lie to suggest that 2,500 people typically turn out to vote for a certain bloc of candidates; “union-backed” or not. (You’re starting to see, I gather, their real bone of contention – that teachers are remunerated for their labor.)

Historically – at least in the past decade, and when you omit 2013 – about 1,000 people show up to vote in favor of the budget and for the highest vote-getters for school board. When you lie to people, you’re insulting everyone’s intelligence. The data aren’t that difficult to obtain, and lies are easy to debunk.  

It’s easy to understand why.

Last year’s failed budget brought record numbers to the polls, and the resulting tide went against the union types. This year, there was no such galvanizing issue. Taxpayers were too busy with everyday life to waste time when the budget wasn’t being contested.

Bullshit. 

No, you were just wasting our time by opposing a reasonable proposition to, y’know, keep our kids safe. Bus breakdowns don’t affect your family, but they affect thousands of others. It doesn’t matter – you got yours, right? You were wasting our time by pimping out some guy who can’t even be bothered to send his kids to the district. No one was energized by Worling and his half-assed non-answers to reasonable questions about a district with which he has no contact whatsoever.

How about I ask to become a member of the board of Central Christian Academy and tell them how to run their business, even though I don’t even know where it’s located?  

Such a lackadaisical electorate was no match for 2,500 school insiders who show up reliably each year to protect their families’ meal tickets.

Bullshit.

Meal tickets? What brand of insanity is this?  There’s not one single person in my group who is connected to the school district in any way beyond sending kids to it. We’re fighting for our kids’ education – not some fantastical “meal ticket”. If you ever needed to know how much contempt this particular person has for the schools, the teachers, the students, and parents – there’s your answer. 

It’s hard to blame them. This is the system we’ve chosen. It’s up to us to put up – or show up.

There’s always next year.

We see your contempt for the taxpayers who treasure our schools and our kids’ educations. We see your lies and how you’re trying to manipulate the facts. We know that you have nothing but malice for the kids and their teachers; for the parents, board, and administration – (even though you don’t bother to show up to board meetings.) 

Honestly, I don’t think New York is right for you. If you’re looking for low taxes and really shitty social services, I’d recommend Mississippi or maybe Florida. 

The Victory in Clarence

21 May

I feel like punctuating everything with a Jesse Pinkman-esque “bitch!” And I wonder what Donn Esmonde would say now, what with his bullshit, facile tea party pandering from last year. 

Clarence taxpayers took back our school district last night. The budget, with a 2.46% spending hike and a 3.16% within-cap tax levy increase, passed by an overwhelming and decisive margin: 2670 – 786.

But no one was seriously advocating against the budget – well, sort of. One especially nasty group foolishly tried to have it both ways, not expressly advocating against it, but not endorsing it, either. They repeatedly reminded their “supporters” that they’d be paying more in taxes. Never mind that everyone’s getting a rebate check for the difference later this year. 

On the other hand, we faced a very extensive push to vote against a proposal to replace aging buses. We were told the district should pay cash, instead of financing the purchase with an almost no-interest state loan over five years, like normal people do. The bus proposition also won overwhelmingly, 2454 – 999. 

I confess that I’m somewhat curious as to why 1,000 Clarence residents believe safe buses for schoolkids to be unnecessary; the opponents’ rhetoric was equal parts ridiculousness and fantasy. I’d love to find out about that. 

Turning to the school board, we originally had five candidates for three available seats; four pro-school candidates, and one anti-school. When the organization with which I was working endorsed three, we had the difficult task of asking Dennis Priore, a former Ken-Ton administrator, to drop out. It took a bit of convincing, but he did so, much to our relief and astonishment. His selfless sacrifice will not be forgotten. 

And so it was that we had three pro-school candidates – Andrews, Stock, and Kloss – and one candidate who was making noise about “creative solutions” that exist only outside the board’s mandate, and “clean revenue”, which would be a job for the town board. For me, he disqualified himself by sending his children to a private Christian school outside the district, (they are entitled to public bus transportation, though), and by failing to donate to the private foundation that helped to restore lost programs last year. 

Remembering that I never much paid attention to school board races, we needed a way to drill our choices into people’s heads. We came up with a mnemonic – “ASK”, and we used it repeatedly on all of our lit and signs. People responded positively, and as we canvassed outside the polls yesterday, they knew to vote “ASK”.  We had a small army of volunteers canvassing their friends and neighbors with palm cards. We leafleted events, utilized social media, and pulled together a great robocall to remind people to GOTV. 

In doing so, I solicited help from the best political consultant in town. (I won’t use his name until I get express permission). He helped pull the script together brilliantly. When I couldn’t figure out whose voice to use for the call – no one wants to hear from me, and some people I asked couldn’t do it for various reasons, he recommended we use my daughter’s voice. I reacted that no one knows her, but was convinced with, “she’s a schoolgirl who’s concerned about her future. Everyone knows that girl.” 

Everyone hates robocalls, but when have you ever received one from a kid? We got a great response from that, and reminded people not only how to vote, but to vote at all. 

So, we have a bit of time to celebrate an unexpected but decisive victory, with many thanks to everyone who helped, gave ideas, and otherwise spent valuable time or money to get us to this point. We took back the district yesterday. Our opponents’ 2013 playbook failed miserably this time around. 

2014 Undy 5000: Please Support the Poo Choo Train

2 Apr

The 2014 Undy 5000 in support of the Colon Cancer Alliance is being held in Buffalo’s Delaware Park on April 26th. It is – astonishingly enough – the only Undy 5000 being held in New York State, and people are coming from throughout the region to participate in a fun event designed to raise money for – and awareness of – a particularly deadly but especially preventable cancer that has an unfortunate stigma.

For those of you squeamish about getting a perfectly painless colonoscopy, you now have a new FDA-approved, non-invasive screening method. To that end, this is a bleg for support as my wife and kid will be participating in the Undy run, and we’re hoping that you’ll help us to raise $4,000 (or more) for the CCA and its mission to help victims of colon cancer, provide free screenings, and raise awareness.  

I seldom write about my personal life, and when I do I keep it as vague and general as possible. You’ll forgive me for making an exception today, but it has to do not with me, but with all of you. 

Back in October 2012, my wife’s gynecologist Dr. Judith Ortman-Nabi advised her to undergo a colonoscopy due to a significant family history of colon cancer. Usually, people aren’t prescribed colonoscopies until the age of 50, which we haven’t yet reached. She went to the endoscopy center on Maple near Millersport. It wasn’t an uncomfortable procedure, but the sedation knocks you out for a day. Bad news – they found a polyp; devastating news – it was cancerous.

That commenced a particularly scary and difficult time. We had to find an oncologist. We had to find a surgeon. My wife returned to the endoscopy clinic, where they tattooed the area so a future surgeon would know from where the polyp had been removed. The area “looked clean” but we didn’t want to take the chance that it hadn’t all been caught. We were exceedingly lucky to discover Dr. Timothy Adams, a talented, young, and friendly surgeon who performs laparoscopically-assisted colon resection surgeries. 

In November 2012, my wife underwent a successful resection surgery and we were overjoyed to find out that the section removed contained no cancer, and the bundle of lymph nodes that were removed along with it showed that the cancer had not spread. We had found it early – had we waited another year or until we were 50, the result likely would  have been tragically different.  That diagnosis leads to a lifetime of follow-ups; bloodwork, testing for markers which may indicate a recurrence of cancer. 

Catching this early was the difference between a full and curative recovery, and something far worse. 

So, my wife wants to help make sure others have as fortunate a result as she, and she is raising money for colon cancer research via this page, and if I’ve ever made you think, laugh, or angry via this blog, I humbly ask you to donate whatever you can – however smallYour donation is 100% tax deductible. If you don’t or can’t, I understand, but I urge you to take colon cancer seriously. If caught early, it could be the difference between life and death. Here’s where the money that’s raised will go – to advocate, to promote and to expand access to screening, to educate, and for cancer research. Because the Undy is intended to be a humorous way to deal with a sensitive subject, our team is called the “Poo Choo Train” in honor of Mr. Hankey and Eric Cartman. 

Every day is a gift. Thanks for reading and for considering this. 

Clarence Schools Urged to Ban Books

9 Mar

Note: At the February meeting of the Clarence school board, new trustee Jason Lahti asked the board to add an agenda item to the next meeting so that certain inappropriate materials could be discussed. The following letter was circulated to some Clarence families over the last week. The author of the letter is Lahti’s wife (and co-trustee Roger Showalter‘s sister). Shown below the embedded letter is the text of what I sent the board in advance of Monday’s school board meeting. In 1999, an effort was made to ban Harry Potter in Clarence schools. Now, we have a wider range of materials under attack. I think my letter speaks for itself, but I will add that banning books in schools is a 1st Amendment issue, and if this happens, I will gladly participate in an effort to bring a Constitutional challenge. Banning books is a much clearer and more present danger to education than anything relating to Common Core. 

Clarence School Curriculum Letter March 2014 by Alan Bedenko

 

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Clarence School Board,  

It has come to my attention that there will be an agenda item and discussion at the March 10th board meeting to address concerns about certain curriculum materials having mostly to do with English, literature, and sex ed. 

I will be blunt – I do not want the school board legislating, micromanaging, or censoring the ELA curriculum or the ELA teachers. I think that these teachers are professionals, and that the school and parents can trust them to make appropriate curriculum choices in order to stimulate our children’s minds, turn them into critical thinkers, and make them hunger not only for knowledge, but curiosity. 

It is also my understanding that a policy exists whereby a parent can opt a child out of a particular reading assignment if they have a problem with the subject matter, so the issue is moot. 

The timing of this is highly suspect. I perceive this as a renewed attempt to divide this community into factions. Last year it was the budget. This year it’s the books. Next year it will perhaps be rejection of the science curriculum, or abstinence-only education. 

The NYS School Board Association maintains that a school board member must be, among other things, a “representative of the entire community”, and not just one faction of it. 

I do not support the censorship or banning of books, and I hope that in these lean budget times, the board would choose to avoid a costly and embarrassing constitutional challenge. 

1. CONFLICT OF INTEREST

There was an informational packet sent around to some town households in the last week or so, containing a call to action and a list of wildly extracontextual selections of themes and passages from books, essays, songs, and sex ed materials. It can be found at this link: http://www.scribd.com/doc/211263269/Clarence-School-Curriculum-Letter-March-2014 

That packet was prepared in part and sent by Ginger Lahti, who is the sister of one board member and the wife of another. There is a clear and obvious conflict of interest, and Mssrs. Showalter and Lahti must recuse themselves from any discussion or vote on this curriculum issue. This is not to punish Mrs. Lahti from speaking out – she has every right to petition the board for whatever she chooses. But because of the close family relationship she has with two members of the board, fairness and ethics demand recusal. The Board’s own Code of Conduct demands high ethical standards and mandates avoidance of even the appearance of impropriety. I believe that this issue meets that standard, and demands recusal.

2. SEX ED

There is a handout about avoiding STDs that Mrs. Lahti finds objectionable. Another one a “sexual behavior chart”. I’m willing to bet that there are more materials that exist within the sex education curriculum, some of which likely contain information about not having sex at all. But teaching abstention does not free our district from not teaching kids how to avoid sexual risk as part of the larger health curriculum. Some kids and parents are embarrassed to discuss matters such as these, but it’s critically important for adolescents to know how to avoid unwanted pregnancy and disease. None of it forecloses a household from emphasizing abstinence within its own personal morality. 

3. LITERATURE

10 of the 24 objectionable materials are for AP classes – college level reading. These kids are at an advanced, mature stage of their academic and chronological lives and can absolutely be trusted to read about adult themes. Likewise, the educators can be trusted to select age-appropriate literature, and the uncomfortable parts of these works can be addressed and discussed.

Where one finds only “male love dolls” and “flavored lubricant”, another finds a brilliant essay on life as a homeless person. Does Jonathan Swift’s classic 1729 satire, “A Modest Proposal”, which mocks the mistreatment of the poor, now merit censorship? After all, Swift is not really advocating for the consumption of infants. Steinem didn’t write about frathouse rape to excite people’s prurient interests, but to expound on the college experience that some women endure. The “Fraternity Drinking Songs” piece demonizes sexual harassment and mistreatment of women – people should be outraged by the song, not by the piece criticizing the song and its rape lyrics.

Farewell to Manzanar isn’t about glorifying child abuse, but one Japanese-American family’s experience in the WW2 internment camps. Those camps were a nightmare – we’re now going to censor teachers from teaching about American history, because some of it was unpalatable? Should we restrict anyone from using Anne Frank’s diary in the classroom because her experience is just too much? These allegedly serious concerns include – apropos of nothing – lyrics from a 5 year-old Nelly Furtado song, and a Donn Esmonde column.

It would appear that there are passages and themes picked out of a larger work, completely out of any meaningful context. They are selected by trained, educated, licensed, professional AP English or Literature teachers so my child can become a critical thinker, a lover of reading, and a lifelong learner.

4. CONCLUSION

Education shouldn’t just be the rote memorization of facts and figures. Sure, that’s part of it, but school exists also to teach kids how to think. Life and this world are full of things that make people uncomfortable. Thinking about things that make us uncomfortable is to be encouraged, not legislated away. Given that most kids in Clarence come from a home with involved parents and relative comfort, we should all make sure that they understand, appreciate, and think critically about the world and their role in it.

If layperson parents want to ensure that their children are exposed only to “wholesome” materials (the definition of which is wholly subjective), they have myriad ways to accomplish that goal. The problem is that Clarence is not some monolith – one person’s “wholesome” is another person’s unconstitutional censorship.

Mrs. Lahti’s call to action closed with a quote from utilitarian philosopher John Stuart Mill; “bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men look on and do nothing.” Setting aside for a moment the insulting notion that Clarence’s ELA and health educators are “bad”, that one quote is – like all the others in that packet – wildly out of context and wholly inappropriate here. Mill’s 1867 inaugural speech at St. Andrew’s University is a great read, and a brilliant exposition on the purpose and value of higher education.

Mill went on to say that schools, “are not intended to teach the knowledge required to fit men for some special mode of gaining their livelihood. Their object is not to make skillful lawyers, or physicians, or engineers, but capable and cultivated human beings.” He described education as many things, including, “the culture which each generation purposely gives to those who are to be its successors, in order to qualify them for at least keeping up, and if possible for raising, the level of improvement which has been attained.” These children will go on to do great things, if we let them. Here’s a better Mill passage:

If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind. Were an opinion a personal possession of no value except to the owner; if to be obstructed in the enjoyment of it were simply a private injury, it would make some difference whether the injury was inflicted only on a few persons or on many. But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.

— On Liberty, John Stuart Mill

Please do not censor or redact what is taught to kids in the schools. Our professional educators do not seek to add violent, or pornographic texts in order to elicit similar behaviors from students, or to excite some hypothetical violent or sexual propensities. These texts all serve a particular purpose, within their proper contexts, whereby our children are molded into adults capable of critical thought and rational analysis. Please don’t legislate someone else’s morality on our children, and breach the Constitution in the process. If parents truly fear exposing their children to the materials at issue here, they can take advantage of the existent opt-out provision. This is sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Alan & Maryl Bedenko

Clarence Center

Parents of two children in the Clarence Central School District, and School Taxpayers

The 2014 Undy 5000

5 Mar

As you may remember from last year, my wife is a colon cancer survivor. Her treatment and surgery were a success, and since then, she has dedicated time and effort to advocate for colon cancer treatment and awareness. As it stands now, it’s only at age 50 that most people are sent for a colonoscopy screening, but it appears that incidents of colon cancer are striking more and more younger people. 

March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month, and there are bills in Albany now pending to declare it to be so in this state. 

That’s pretty awesome.

So, here’s the ask. Do you own a business? Would you like to promote your business while simultaneously promoting awareness for a preventable but deadly cancer, and maybe get yourself a tax write-off in the process? Then please consider becoming a sponsor of the local Undy 5000 run, set to take place in Delaware Park on April 26th. There are sponsorships available for $1,000 – $25,000. 

Here is a brochure explaining what the event is about: 

Undy 5000 : About the Event

Here are the sponsorship levels for the Buffalo Undy 5000.  Again, please, if you own a business, please consider a sponsorship. 

Undy 5000 Local Sponsorships 2014

Finally, here’s information about running

Join the 2014 Buffalo Undy 5000 Run

Finally, just like last year, my wife and daughter have started a team – the “Poo Choo Train” – to participate in this year’s Undy 5000, and your donations are very, very much appreciated.  Last year, we raised an amazing amount of money, and all of it went to the Colon Cancer Alliance for treatment, prevention, and education

Michael Sam

13 Feb

This is what one Dallas, Texas broadcaster has to say about the shock! Horror! of the first openly gay prospective NFL player. 

The Wheel

11 Oct

Courtesy Joe Janiak

It’s been a busy week, and it’s Friday, so I leave you with a few things to mull over. 

In 2012, Buffalo Spree writer Julia Burke wrote this article comparing how advanced the bicycle infrastructure was in Madison, Wisconsin as compared with the slow pace of similar change in Buffalo. It was rather uncontroversial. 

A Buffalo native, Burke recently left Buffalo for Madison – a city where she had no job, no family, and no friends. She wrote a compelling article about the reasoning behind her decision to move. This caused a furor on Twitter and Facebook. 

Here are a few passages that stood out for me: 

I moved to one of the Midwestern cities that have made themselves attractive and viable not necessarily through “Rust Belt Chic” but through flexibility and adaptation, by addressing the underlying problems plaguing American cities––struggling schools, segregation, lack of public transportation, violent crime––confident that the “cool factor” will come from real effort and foresight, and the superficial stuff will follow. I’m not interested in urban decay porn; I grew up with it, and I’ve seen how it reflects a hopeless privilege that places preserving the “charm” of detritus above making neighborhoods more accessible, environmentally conscious, livable, and integrated…

…After a recent event involving late-night art exhibits and performance in Buffalo’s grain elevators, a prominent artist friend of mine posted comments on Facebook about how wonderful the concept was and how the event could be improved by emphasizing a higher quality, rather than quantity, of art. Another commenter added that the event, while exciting and visually stunning, was set in a location rather ill equipped for its several thousand attendees, and addressing safety hazards for children and the disabled might be a good goal for next year. One of the event’s organizers jumped in and, rather than thanking the commenters for their very reasonable suggestions, shot back, “Thanks for all the negativity!” 

Growing up in Buffalo gave me most of my best friends and many exciting work opportunities. It imparted to me the toughness and resourcefulness that come from living through harsh winters and making ends meet waiting tables, tending bar, and stocking retail shelves in a city whose thirty-year recession has been recast as “affordability.” It ensured that I will never take snow-plowed streets or writing gigs or the knowledge that I am surrounded by a progressive, liberal mindset for granted. And in Buffalo, where we joke that everyone in the “creative class” has three jobs, the people working against tangible and intangible obstacles to feed their passion are some of the most amazing people I have ever met.

They deserve better than burnout. They deserve to be surrounded by people who have no interest in settling, who want to see their city rise from the ashes and will cut no corners ensuring its long-term viability. They deserve representatives who have traveled and who know what is possible.

Every problem we have in Buffalo has a political cause, and a concomitant political solution. In response to a promising young former resident’s article calling out Buffalo’s complacency, stasis, and inability to react positively to criticism, a Vice President from the Buffalo Niagara Partnership’s response was astonishing, claiming that the article was a “Dear John” letter; that it was “throwing mud” and she should “just leave”.  I had a Buffalo city planner repeatedly accuse her of writing criticisms she didn’t write, and which he wouldn’t quote when asked. He claimed that she was being disingenuous about the city’s walkability, which she didn’t criticize, the bus system, which she didn’t mention, and other things. 

I mentioned at one point that we have a bus system that doesn’t feature street furniture at stops which also displays “next bus” information. This is pretty much a standard issue thing in this day and age; even Rochester has this feature. Buffalo will never have it until one of the millionaire Lexus drivers on the NFTA board decides to take a ride to another city and deigns to examine a bus stop in, say, Rochester. Our Thruway system uses 50s era toll-taking technology in 2013, and because it has no incentive to change it (they’re all in Albany), and we’re simply not a priority, it will never, ever change. 

These are obviously little problems, which mask the much more serious socioeconomic and cultural problems that plague the city. We’re told repeatedly that sprawl without growth is unsustainable – I agree, but so is gentrification without growth. Buffalo looks great from the trendy ghettoes in and around Elmwood Avenue and Allentown, but there’s no “renaissance”, no “sense of place”, not a lot to be excited about if you’re part of the city’s vast, poor majority. Burke’s article mentions Geico jobs – jobs that are all but inaccessible to an inner-city kid, because Geico is 25 miles away from where that kid lives, and the bus system isn’t particularly swift. The region has been advancing, sorta – one step forward, two steps back. For all the cranes at Canalside, we have a failing and dysfunctional school district. For all the restaurants and boutiques on Hertel and Elmwood, we have crushing poverty. For all the soccer bars and dog parks, we have a violent crime epidemic and a city that fudges the numbers. Buffalo, for real. 

We have a tendency to cheer for incremental changes and mere attempts, regardless of the outcome. We cheer for our efforts to do things that other cities have long ago figured out. That’s nice, dear. Let’s instead focus on the difficult issues and cheer when we, I don’t know, establish a regional plan for what we want this area to look like in 20 or 50 years, and then create the infrastructure and personnel to get us there. That takes hard work and we have a population that is exquisitely resistant to change. Activism doesn’t just mean preaching to the choir, but convincing the public at-large that the deep changes we need benefit everybody; we have to stop pitting one group against another and lift all goddamn boats. 

What do you think our regional priorities should be? How do we sell fundamental, deep regional political, social, educational, and economic change to a conservative and resistant population? How can we sell these big ideas while convincing people (a) that they aren’t going to “lose” while others “win”, and that these changes will benefit them, too? 

The wheel is turning and you can’t slow down, 
You can’t let go and you can’t hold on, 
You can’t go back and you can’t stand still, 
If the thunder don’t get you then the lightning will. 

Won’t you try just a little bit harder, 
Couldn’t you try just a little bit more? 
Won’t you try just a little bit harder, 
Couldn’t you try just a little bit more? 

Round, round robin run round, got to get back to where you belong, 
Little bit harder, just a little bit more, 
A little bit further than you gone before. 

The wheel is turning and you can’t slow down, 
You can’t let go and you can’t hold on, 
You can’t go back and you can’t stand still, 
If the thunder don’t get you then the lightning will. 

Small wheel turn by the fire and rod, 
Big wheel turn by the grace of God, 
Every time that wheel turn ’round, 
Bound to cover just a little more ground. 

The wheel is turning and you can’t slow down, 
You can’t let go and you can’t hold on, 
You can’t go back and you can’t stand still, 
If the thunder don’t get you then the lightning will. 

Won’t you try just a little bit harder, 
Couldn’t you try just a little bit more? 
Won’t you try just a little bit harder, 
Couldn’t you try just a little bit more 

Texas Legislator Violates 1st Amendment

10 Jul

I’m not as concerned about the potential for governmental abuse of information as I am with actual government abuse of power. There are actual liberties being chiseled away by elected representative bodies, and when average citizens decide to speak up against it, they are physically removed from the legislative chamber.

While amateur constitutional scholars and Infowars cretins conflate “rights” with “being a dick to a cop and seeing what happens”, this woman is a victim of governmental restraint of political speech. Good for Sarah Slamen, aka @VictorianPrude, and shame on @SenJaneNelson.

Interviewed later by a Daily Kos user, Slamen wrote that she was never given a reason why she was expelled before her allotted speaking time had elapsed: 

There was no explanation. Senator Jane Nelson tried to say I was being disrespectful but how would she know? I barely got to give the complete performance review of every member on the committee. Pointing out that Sen. Donna Campbell is an ophthalmologist is not disrespectful when she asserts in a state hearing that she should be THE expert on reproductive health. What was disrespectful was the parade of anti-choice zealots and misogynists who got up for 13 hours and called women murderers, killers, promiscuous, thoughtless, and selfish. Not a peep from committee chair Nelson on those.

Texas. Freedom and Liberty, but only if you’re a right-wing zealot. 

The Foundry’s Fundraising Campaign

28 Jun

To close out the week, I want to direct your attention to something fun, exciting, and important that’s happening on Buffalo’s east side. Located at 298 Northampton Street not far from Main Street, the Foundry could be described as a low-tech incubator, of sorts. It started out last spring to create something new out of other people’s trash – materials would be salvaged and picked to reduce waste and reuse things that still had useful life. 

The Foundry has an urgent need for contributions from the community to help it meet its immediate building improvement goals

Last May, a small group of folks moved into a recently vacated building on the East Side of Buffalo. We were passionate about using reclaimed and salvaged materials, found objects and trash-picked treasures to create new things, to create new opportunities for average people with a skill, some motivation, and a dream. 

The Foundry is whatever its members need it to be; a workshop, an office, a studio, a community space, and a place for imagination and creativity in a oft-forgotten neighborhood. Some of the entrepreneurs and artisans making up the Foundry include: 

But in order better to fulfill its mission, the Foundry need support – both personal and financial. If you don’t have money to donate, they can use your time and knowledge. It’s not just about empowering people to fulfill their dreams, but about creating a better economic future for a community. On the Second Saturday of every month, the Foundry opens itself up to the public, and you can watch participants do their work, buy their wares, explore and get involved. You can get everything from hand-made soaps to salvaged church pews. There’s coffee, beer, welders, weavers, and glass blowers. 

 

In its first year of existence, the Foundry has accomplished the following: 

  • Created ten studios equipped with the necessary specialized tools for each craft.
  • Completed a 3,000 square foot addition to expand the building’s footprint.
  • Outfitted a technology lab, a woodworking shop and a metalworking studio with necessary tools and equipment.
  • Reached agreement with the landlord to purchase The Foundry.

With Community Support, the Foundry:

  • Leveraged hundreds of hours of volunteer labor from residents and supporters to clean, organize, and create new spaces.
  • Future fiber arts studio has been outfitted by a generous donation by Daemen College.
  • With help from a National Grid grant,  the Foundry upgraded all the first floor lights to high efficiency lighting fixtures.
  • With commitment of in-kind support from the Sprinkler Fitters Union Local 669, the Foundry is upgrading its entire fire protection system.
  • Created a master build-out plan, pro-bono, with architect Anne Dafchik to accommodate more residents, a community venue and spaces for our kitchencafe and a future restaurant.

The Foundry contributed to the community around it by, 

  • Hosting Buffalo’s Torn Space Theatre’s production, “He Who Gets Slapped”.
  • Hosting Vermont’s world famous Bread and Puppet Theater, Adam Ende and Puerto Rico’s Puppeteers Poncili Company.
  • Serving as a location for local film production “Give and Take”.
  • Initiating the Second Saturday at The Foundry series, and hosting Second Saturdays every month since May 2012
  • Holding a series of free workshops, classes, and trainings for community members.
  • Providing meaningful, hands-on internships for City Honors and Nichols students.
  • Mobilizing 50 volunteers to plant 150 trees in the Masten Park Neighborhood.  

By working together and engaging in the community, the people behind the Foundry believe that they can have a bigger impact than by acting individually. 

 

The Foundry is looking to raise $30,000 to make some important changes and upgrades to its physical plant, including

  • The fire protection system: The Foundry’s effort received a huge boost with an in-kind donation from Davis Ulmer Sprinkler Company for a design of our new system. The Sprinkler Fitters union is helping by getting apprentices involved in completing most of the work. The Foundry still needs to float the materials, and it’s big. $15,000.
  • Steel Staircases, Fire Doors and Firewalls: To access the second floor and open up twelve additional studios for new residents. $13,200. 
  • Heating System: The Foundry has its sights set on a new energy-efficient furnace that will heat the facility with waste fuel. $12,500.
  • Windows and Doors: As Buffalo Lab works to implement the property’s keyless access system, they need to upgrade numerous doors in the building and open up windows that have long been blocked in. $1,750.
  • Electrical System Upgrades and Improvements: all the ground level lighting has been switched to high efficiency fixtures, but they need to complete the second level, and additional wiring improvements throughout the building. $3,500.
  • Safety, signage, security system: $ 1,200.
  • Plan review and permitting: $750.

The maintenance and development of the building will be largely supported through revenues generated by space rental to emerging entrepreneurs, artisans, and small business owners. The Foundry strives to strike a balance between offering affordable spaces for all its residents while also making sure the building can sustain itself well into the future.

Rent for participating entrepreneurs includes utilities, access to community workspaces (wood shop, glass shop, metal shop, office space), access to a growing inventory of reclaimed materials that can be utilized for projects, and first priority on professional and skill development classes.

The Foundry is running an Indiegogo fundraising effort right now to help it meet its immediate financial goals. You can check it out and contribute by clicking here. There’s 9 days left in its fundraising efforts, and it’s 1/3 of the way towards meeting its goal. 

The Foundry Website: www.thefoundrybuffalo.org

Net Positive, The Foundry’s sponsoring organization: www.netpositivefoundation.org